I have spent the past month or so flip-flopping between business ideas dealing with the sale of police equipment. I am a police officer (part time now, three years of full-time previously), an accounting student (graduating in a few weeks), and in a perfect position to start my own business as I'm single (no kids) and 24 years old. I also have a good job that is flexible (I have Tuesdays, Thursdays, and most Saturdays off)
I have been selling tactical equipment to friends and locals and have made a few bucks, but the money simply isn't worth the effort without a brick and mortar store. I am committed to starting this busines with minimal inital investment. I am building my own website (a simple, clean, effective website that is informative - a brochure website, no online sales). I have used my own money to set up a home office, get some basic marketing materials like business cards and brochures. I also have the distributors in place to make any size order I need. I have a person willing to lend me money on a short-term basis for orders that I cannot cover in full with my own money.
I have decided to sell only to local small police departments (maybe within 50-75 miles of my home). I'm in Western NC, so there are TONS of small departments in every direction. I've found that most of them buy online or from large retailers in Charlotte or Raleigh. With almost zero overhead, I am confident that I can undercut just about any other retailer - expecially since most large retailers don't offer significant discounts for small departments who don't place huge orders at once. Though I'm not an authorized dealer for any of my products, I am confident that I can still undercut authorized dealers simply because I don't have a store, sales website, warehouse, or any other large expenses that will factor into costing. Once I can prove that I do $10,000 of business per year, I will be able to become a dealer (though not authorized - can't bid on large contracts) for a huge corporation that makes at least half of the commonly used poice equipment. At that point, I will really be able to offer incredible prices.
I know that I will have to hit the bricks and just work my butt off to make it to every PD I can in my area. By sticking to the smallest departments (less than 50 officers total), I think I have at least 20 departments in my immediate area. Now what? Here are a few questions for anyone with related experience or knowledge:
1) Should my marketing be completely in person? Should I be sending mail and emails to the officers in charge of ordering? What are some other marketing things I could do to get my name out there? I'm only one person, so a significant portion of my marketing efforts might have to happen outside of face-to-face meetings.
2) If I walk into a department and am allowed bid on a job or am given an order on the spot (not likely, but let's assume), what do I need to have in my briefcase? I keep my marketing literature and business cards on hand, but what else? I offer way too many products to have a full list on hand, so should I simply have a standard order form?
3) When filling a small order for a department, should I ask for a deposit up front? Unlike state contacts or large department orders, most small police departments (in NC at least) use credit cards or write checks to pay for small orders. Should I ask for everything up front?
4) I've pretended to be an ordering officer and requested quotes from quite a few large online retailers that I know some small departments use. I can beat the heck out of their prices. I don't know how to find out about the smaller retailers that my target departments may use. How should I set prices since I'm partially blind? Standard percentage markup? Wing it? Go extra-cheap to get my foot in the door?
Any other suggestions, comments, or advice would be much appreciated. I'm pretty close to pulling the trigger on this idea, so I need to get the fine points worked out so I am prepared when I finally get a sit-down with a potential client.
#1. "RE: Some geneal marketing questions..." In response to Reply # 0
It sounds like you have established your target market as being that of the local police departments within your area. Great work!
What I suggest doing first is research. Just because you think you can out price someone doesnt mean these departments are going to purchase something from you. Price is not everything.
You must first understand the urgent needs of your target market. This is simply done by finding out who does the ordering within these departments (generally its the training officer or chief of police).
Ask them if they would be willing to complete a survey form for you (you would develop this). This is a good resource tool because in your survey you can ask what products they use, what products they need, why they use the vendors they do, any problems they have had with their vendors etc. These answers will help you establish a marketing niche to gain these departments and offer things that your competitors do not. It will also help you to develop brochures, website, business cards etc.
Remember, in order for you to gain new clients you must offer extraordinary value with your products and service so they feel that the return they receive on their investment (in you and your products)is greater than the investment they made. In addition to this, they must see you as a category authority (expert in the field). You being a police officer assists with this as you have experience in the field and with using the equipment you are selling. Also there is the "likeability" factor. They have to like working with you and see that you offer them value.
In your three years of work, you have been to numerous trainings and seminars etc where you have had to network with other professionals in your field.
Use these contacts as a marketing start to get names, departments etc (again reseach). You will be surprised by how well you can promote yourself and get "warm" leads by doing this. Talk with family, neighbors, local business owners. See if they know of someone who needs your service or products. Referrals are an awesome way to increase our prospect list.
Cold Calling is another option and can be done over the phone or in person. In person is much more difficult because you are dropping in "unannounced". Think back...did your chief of police or training officer ever talk about sales with someone on the spot, let alone a person making a complaint about a ticket, arrest or court date etc? Probably not.
After you have made contact with your target departments, make an appointment to sit and discuss what benefits you can offer them and how you can partner. Bring business cards, and a brochure. You can develop a partial brochure and make your website more defined to include all your products. Make sure your business card has your website and refer your potential clients to that site often.
For inventory tracking purposes, I recommend if you are dealing with departments and not individuals, I would invoice net 30 days. Usually they have to put in a purchase order and can provide you with that. Think about what kind of return policy you might have, or trial offer you can extend. If you are dealing with individuals, a partial deposit should be taken and balance due upon receipt of delivery.
Regarding pricing. Again research. Get as many of your competitors prices on the products you are going to offer. Find the median price (make sure you include any expense you will incur)and this should help you establish a baseline guide.
I also recommend getting a Dunn & Bradstreet number, cage code,and business registration license. This way you can estabilsh yourself as a reputable vendor and increase your business to other areas like the DOD, Local government etc. Having the ability to respond to RFP's, RFQ's etc will also increase your customer base.
Sorry for the length of the response. Hope this helps. Good Luck. If I can be of further assistance just let me know.
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